Judge accepts Peter Pan peanut butter settlement

Judge accepts Peter Pan peanut butter settlement

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Officials with ConAgra Grocery Products pled guilty to one misdemeanor charge of shipping adulterated food, in Albany Federal Court Tuesday.

Judge Louis Sands approved a plea deal between the company and the Department of Justice.

ConAgra will pay the largest fine in U-S Food Safety history, totaling more than $11.2 million.

But people who say they were victims of the contaminated peanut butter got nothing.

For hours, victims testified they are still suffering medical and financial problems nearly a decade after they say they suffered salmonella poisoning from peanut butter made at the Sylvester Peanut Butter Plant.  And they were upset when they were told the company would not have to pay anything to them.

After the decision, overcome with frustration, Whitney Bailey of Alabama chased one of the ConAgra attorneys down West Broad Avenue to tell him she thinks the company got off too easy.

Then a 17 year old high school cheerleader. She is disabled by continuing medical problems.

Myra Kinser and her sister Mona McCombs came from Indiana to testify about their mother, who died in February 2007 from they say eating the salmonella tainted peanut butter.

"The government is getting it all. None for the victims," said McCombs.

Both Mona and Myra testified in court that they still suffer medical problems from eating the peanut butter as well.

"ConAgra is giving the government $11 million. And my life was destroyed. My mother is dead. I lost my business, almost lost my home. And had 6 doctors," said Kinser.

ConAgra in their plea deal admitted they shipped from their Sylvester plant peanut butter that contained salmonella, or may have become contaminated.

The CDC identified more than 700 cases of illnesses linked to the outbreak, with estimated thousands more that went unreported.

The company recalled all their peanut butter from that plant since 2004, and spent $45 million to repair the plant and improve operations to prevent another outbreak.

Judge Louis Sands in court praised ConAgra for the way they handled the outbreak.

But he explained after years of investigation, victims could not prove enough for criminal prosecution that peanut butter sickened them, and could not give restitution to victims, no matter the impact on their lives.

Attorneys for the company refused a statement after the hearing.

"Maybe somebody from the company will issue a statement. OK. Thanks, you guys. Take care," said Attorney Joe Whitley.

As he walked away, some family members yelled "murderer" at him, and Bailey chased him down.

"At this point, I don't trust anybody. I don't trust anybody," said McCombs.

A representative for ConAgra released the following statement:

We are pleased to finalize the resolution regarding the 2007 voluntary peanut butter recall. Nothing is more important to us than the safety and quality of the food we make. We regret the incident and how it impacted our customers and consumers. The investments we've made in our facilities, employees and programs over the past nine years have allowed us to make quality peanut butter ever since and we are confident that we will continue to offer Peter Pan as a safe, wholesome food in the years to come.

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